Jolly reviewed the letter and affirmed Williams' termination effective August 30, 1992 for the nonfeasance and misfeasance of his duties as counsel to PHA.
Summary judgment is appropriate where the evidence before the court shows that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). When examining a motion for summary judgment, the court must view the facts in a light most favorable to the non-moving party. United States v. Hall, 730 F. Supp. 646, 648 (M.D. Pa. 1990). The court's responsibility is not to resolve disputed issues of facts but to determine whether there are any factual issues to be tried. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, 477 U.S. 242, 247-49, 106 S. Ct. 2505, 2509-11 (1986)
The movant bears the initial burden of demonstrating that there is an absence of evidence to support the non-moving party's case. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 325, 106 S. Ct. 2548, 2553 (1986). If met, the burden then shifts to the non-moving party who must then go beyond the pleadings, affidavits, depositions and interrogatories to show that there is more than a metaphysical doubt as to material facts. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 106 S. Ct. 1348, 1356 (1986); Celotex, 477 U.S. at 323, 106 S. Ct. at 2552.
In cases where the parties filed cross-motions for summary judgment, each side essentially contends that no issue of material fact exists from its perspective. Hall, 730 F. Supp. at 648. We must, therefore, consider each motion for summary judgment separately. Id. The standards under which we grant or deny summary judgment do not change because cross-motions are filed. Id. Each party still bears the initial burden of establishing a lack of genuine issues of material fact. Id. Such contradictory claims do not necessarily guarantee that if one party's motion is rejected, the other party's motion must be granted. See id. quoting Rains v. Cascade Indus., Inc., 402 F.2d 241, 245 (3d Cir. 1968).
For the sake of simplicity and since the parties are arguing opposite sides of the same issues, we will establish each argument separately, the opposition thereto, and then the pertinent law and its application.
A. Alleged deprivation of property interests
PHA moves for summary judgment on the grounds that under Pennsylvania law an at-will employee has no expectation of future employment and, therefore, cannot have a property interest. Since Williams was an at-will employee, PHA argues that his deprivation of property interest claim must fail.
Williams does not dispute his former status as an at-will employee and concedes that Pennsylvania law does not recognize that a public, at-will employee may have a property interest in continued employment. He instead argues that the equitable estoppel doctrine creates an exception to Pennsylvania's stringent at-will employment doctrine. He alleges that since he detrimentally relied on the leave agreement with PHA, his discharge constituted a deprivation of property interest.
We agree with PHA and find that Williams' equitable estoppel exception is insufficient to overcome Pennsylvania's at-will employment doctrine. As a result, we will grant PHA's motion for summary judgment concerning the property interest claim and deny Williams' opposing cross-motion.
Defining Williams' property interest in public employment depends upon Pennsylvania law. See Bishop v. Wood, 426 U.S. 341, 344, 96 S. Ct. 2074, 2077 (1976). Pennsylvania law is clear: unless there is specific legislative language to the contrary, public, at-will employees do not have a property interest in continued employment. Cooley v. Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency, 830 F.2d 469, 471 (3d Cir. 1987) citing Scott v. Philadelphia Parking Authority, 402 Pa. 151, 166 A.2d 278 (1960); see also Unger v. National Residents Matching Program, 928 F.2d 1393, 1399 (3d Cir. 1991) (finding that a property interest may arise where a state entity can terminate employment only for cause). Nor does Pennsylvania law recognize equitable estoppel as an exception to the at-will employment doctrine. Paul v. Lankenau Hosp., 524 Pa. 90, 95, 569 A.2d 346, 348 (1990); Andrew v. Lemmon Pharmacal Co., 767 F. Supp. 657, 659 (E.D.Pa. 1990); Carlson v. Arnot-Ogden Memorial Hosp., 918 F.2d 411, 416 (3d Cir. 1990).
Williams, however, asks this court to rely on Bolduc v. Board of Supervisors, 618 A.2d 1188, 1191 (Pa.Cmwlth. 1992) as a basis for the equitable estoppel exception. There the court found that to apply the equitable estoppel doctrine against a government agency, it must have intentionally or negligently misrepresented some material fact and induced a party to act to his or her detriment, knowing or having reason to know the other party would justifiably rely on the misrepresentation. Id. Williams alleges that PHA misrepresented the fact that he would retain his position with PHA upon return from medical leave and that PHA knew or had reason to know that he would rely on the promise. Because of the promise, Williams argues that he did not seek alternative employment.
However, Williams' reliance on Bolduc is without merit. First, the court in Bolduc did not reach the equitable estoppel inquiry, and the opinion concerning equitable estoppel must be treated as mere dictum.2 Even so, Pennsylvania's Supreme Court has not addressed Bolduc's equitable estoppel exception and is not, therefore, sufficient to supplant or supplement the Pennsylvania's at-will employment laws. Secondly, even if Bolduc represented current law, Williams' allegations on their face do not establish the necessary elements of the doctrine. Williams does not present evidence that PHA intentionally or negligently misrepresented some material fact.
Thus, Williams fails to demonstrate that the equitable estoppel exception creates a property interest in continued, public employment. Pennsylvania law is clear that Williams as a public, at-will employee has no property interests in continued employment with PHA. We must, as a result, grant PHA's motion for summary judgment and deny Williams' opposing cross-motion.
B. Alleged deprivation of liberty interests
Williams additionally alleged in his complaint that he was deprived of a liberty interest as a result of the dissemination of stigmatizing information connected with his discharge. PHA now moves for summary judgment because even assuming that the elements essential for a stigmatization claim exists, PHA did not deny Williams due process.
Williams alleges that although he consistently and in a timely manner demanded a formal discovery and evidentiary hearing, PHA refused his request and that such denial of formal proceedings constituted a deprivation of due process.
The central issue then is whether adequate due process requires formal discovery and an evidentiary hearing as requested by Williams. We find that it does not, and, for reasons discussed below, we again grant PHA's motion for summary judgment on the liberty interest allegation and deny Williams' cross-motion for summary judgment.
Assuming that Williams has adequately alleged all of the necessary elements to make a false stigmatization claim, the Fourteenth Amendment requires that a non-tenured employee be given the opportunity to clear his name. Codd v. Velger, 97 S. Ct. 882, 884 (1977). That opportunity to be heard need not be formal, see Gniotek v. City of Philadelphia, 808 F.2d 241, 243 (3d Cir. 1986), but only that it must occur at a meaningful time and in a meaningful manner. Mathews v. Eldredge, 424 U.S. 319, 336, 96 S. Ct. 893, 902 (1976). Given the opportunity, the employee must take advantage of the offer to challenge the substantial truth of the stigmatizing information. Codd, 97 S. Ct. at 884.
In Gniotek, 808 F.2d at 244, the Third Circuit found that the determination of whether due process was adequate must be measured against the two essential elements of due process: notice and the opportunity to be heard. Id. quoting Cleveland Bd. of Educ. v. Loudermill, 470 U.S. 532, 105 S. Ct. 1487, 1495 (1985). There, six police officers were served "Notices of Intention to Dismiss" which specified the charges levied against them and offered them ten days in which to challenge the dismissal in a personal, pre-termination interview with the commissioner. Gniotek, 808 F.2d at 242. The policemen, however, invoked their privilege against self-incrimination because of pending criminal charges and refused the interview. Id.
The court affirmed the defendant's motion for summary judgment finding that the policemen were given adequate notice and an adequate opportunity to respond. Id. at 245. The court noted that the fact that the policemen opted not to take advantage of the appeals process did not offend the notion of due process. Id.
Similarly, PHA offered Williams adequate notice and the opportunity to respond to the allegations. Notice is sufficient if 1) it apprises the party of the nature of the charges and general evidence against him and 2) it is timely under the particular circumstances. Gniotek, 808 F.2d at 244. First, PHA notified Williams both in writing and in person of the specific reasons for his discharge. Additionally, PHA's notice of termination was timely offering Williams adequate opportunity to address the allegations.
We also find that PHA gave Williams adequate opportunity to challenge the reasons for his termination. PHA notified Williams at the termination interview that if Williams wished to challenge the termination, he must submit his reasons or evidence in a written appeal to Mr. Jolly within ten days of the effective date of termination.
Williams, however, did not take advantage of the appeals process. Instead of submitting a written appeal to Mr. Jolly, Williams wrote a letter to Mr. Hughes demanding a formal hearing. Ms. Galeota then offered Williams additional time and a second opportunity to submit a written appeal to Mr. Jolly in order to offer reasons and evidence to challenge his discharge. Williams subsequently submitted a written document to Mr. Jolly but only to request a formal hearing and not to offer evidence or reasons to challenge his termination.
Nor does Williams allege any inadequacies in the offered appeals process. To the contrary, PHA's handling of the incident indicates a good will effort to resolve the issues. First, PHA offered Williams the opportunity to resign in order to preserve his employment record and reputation. Second, they offered to Williams on two separate occasions the time and opportunity to challenge his termination in a written appeal to Mr. Jolly. Lastly, Williams had earlier requested and received an interview with Mr. Jolly which resulted in a 30 day medical leave with which to resolve any personal problems. Nothing indicates that Williams' written appeal to Mr. Jolly would have been any less effective.
Thus, we find that PHA offered Williams adequate notice and the opportunity to be heard. The fact that he chose not to take advantage of the appeal does not offend the notions of due process. See Gniotek, 808 F.2d at 245. As a result, PHA did not deny Williams due process and we must, therefore, grant PHA's motion for summary judgment on the deprivation of liberty claim and deny Williams' cross-motion.
C. Breach of Contract Claim
In his complaint, Williams alleged that PHA breached the employment contract. PHA moves for summary judgment on the grounds that an at-will employee has no contract. Williams in his response argues the same equitable estoppel exception that he employed in his deprivation of property claim to maintain the breach of contract claim.
It is well established that in Pennsylvania, an at-will employee may be discharged at any time with or without cause regardless of any alleged reliance on a promise made by the employer. Paul v. Lankenau Hosp., 524 Pa. 90, 95, 569 A.2d 346, 348-49 (1990). Nor is equitable estoppel an exception to Pennyslvania's at-will employment doctrine. Id.
Moreover, Williams does not dispute his former status as an at-will employee. Thus, we find that Williams had no employment contract with PHA and, for the same reasons we found on Williams' deprivation of property claim, we will grant PHA's motion for summary judgment on the breach of contract claim.
AND NOW, this 17th day of September, 1993, upon consideration of Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment and Plaintiff's response thereto, and upon further consideration of Plaintiff's Partial Cross-Motion for Summary Judgment and Defendants' response thereto, it is hereby ORDERED that Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment is GRANTED and Plaintiff's Partial Cross-Motion for Summary Judgment is DENIED.
BY THE COURT:
J. CURTIS JOYNER, J.